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From up somewhat close, maybe an hour's walk away from the House, the towering, stark, dark grey walls of Fastidious House emphasized the impression of strength. Huddled beneath their imposing grandeur, not even reaching a quarter of the way up the wall, was what seemed from this distance a small collection of seemingly insignificant wooden buildings. Spreading out from the buildings, like a dark tumour on the grasslands, were the farm fields dotted with small insignificant specks which must’ve been the Tier Three farmers.

A glimmering band of water, reflecting the stark grey wall it pooled along, held the vast fishing pond which spread far around the walls of the House. Small boats, birdhouses, and tiny islands were speckled seemingly at random along its length, which spread around the distant walls of Fastidious House.

No path led from here to the Tier Three farm. And the towering wall, which separated Fastidious House from the grasslands, was unbroken except for a single narrow gate within a tower. The same gate that, not long ago, I had departed through with my brother.

Now I was alone.

During the better part of an hour walking, at a simple and steady pace, it took me to reach the outskirts of the Tier Three settlement, my mind kept comparing the multiple lives I’ve lived.

By the time I got to the Tier Three settlement—which had no name other than Farm or Food Production—I was so confused which of my many lives I was currently living. But by roaming through the farmlands, watching the people all around me. I was forced back into my current life. Though I was now, probably, the God of Death, I didn’t like this area. No, I hadn’t liked it when I first travelled through it, and I could see that my Brother hated it too.

This whole area was strangely lifeless. The squabbling chickens pecking for food amongst the mud and the bleating goats wandering aimlessly around were more full of life than any of the people who were supposed to be living here.

There were a series of fenced off muddy pens which held children up to the age of five. Only the youngest, not much older than weened babies, held any semblance of playfulness as they splashed in the mud and wiping over their naked bodies. The rest—even the toddlers, some of whom were using the crude fence to walk despite the risk of splinters—were almost as lifeless and filled with emptiness as the adults.

Walking drearily between these pens were a small group of girls, none of whom were no older than eight. Their hair matted, their clothes splattered with mud, yet none of them talked or laughed or ran. None of them, like any of the children, or most of the adults, had shoes on their feet. Instead, they walked through the mud barefooted.

Overwhelming anything else was the foul stench of fertiliser piled high between the tower which held the gate and the three-story long dorm building nearest the gate. The ground floor was open and held the only signs of industry out here were the small team of wood carvers who wielded blunt knives to make crude shovels, hoes, plates, cups and other essentials in open-sided sheds. From what my brother told me, the other ground floors were used to house the animals, store tools, food for the settlement, or other essential goods for farming and their tasks they were required to do on a daily basis.

Though it wasn’t obvious from the haggard look and weary faces of those working in the settlement, there were likely no one over the age of thirty, maybe thirty-five at the most. But with the weary, prematurely aged faces, it was hard to tell. Even those whom I thought were young teens seemed to carry themselves in ways no one of their age should ever carry themselves. This was the time when they should be exploring, pushing boundaries, seeing what they could do in the future. Instead, they were just haggard, weary drones doing what they were told to do because they couldn’t think for themselves.

None of the people working gave me more than a single glance, if that, before carrying on listlessly on the tasks they were assigned to do.

It hurt seeing this settlement, as it was somewhere like this that the goddess had intended for me to live. Just because I came from somewhere outside her control. If she had let me live as someone within Heartlands, then maybe I would’ve been tainted by the opinions of those around me and not seen the horror of these settlements. But she had forced me to live ten years as a soldier slave before my Brother found a way to free me.

Now I was obscenely horrified by the way she treated people. In this small settlement, comprising six long bunk houses there were far more people living here than in the entirety of Tier Five and above who called Fastidious House home, and all in the space of less than a single wing of the vast sprawling House which I called home.

I had to once again close my heart off to the pain of those whom I walked past; especially towards a heavily pregnant girl, wearing muddy clothes which were much too small and exposed her legs and places which should be private because of her heavily rounded belly. She was probably not much older than twelve years old and despite being pregnant, with obviously swollen ankles, she was struggling to hobble whilst carrying two heavy buckets of water.

Now was not the time for limited action. I was now the patriarch of Fastidious House, and the actions in the coming days, weeks, and years would hopefully change the fortunes of Tier Threes like her, not just now, but hopefully forever.

I knocked on the door in the tower, with the hand which was clasping the key, hoping whomever guarding the gate would allow me through. Otherwise I would have a major issue on my hands.

Fastidious House Recognises Key for Fastidious House

Fastidious House Recognises Concept and Traits Related to Fastidious House

Fastidious House Recognises New Ownership of Fastidious House
Do You Wish to Broadcast Ownership Rights
Yes / No

Okay, well, that solved that issue.

I quickly selected no.

The key sunk into my palm in an unpleasant, icky feeling. That strange, unpleasant feeling crawled up the inside of my hand until it reached my wrist. Then it expanded and spread and spit itself out upon my wrist as a bracelet.

It formed a simple, plain, centimetre thick silver bracelet. The only decoration was a realistic skull visible on the underside of my arm.

Once the key had reformed, a tendril of that icky feeling reached for and then invaded my mind.

Trait 7 Unlocked: Controller of Fastidious House
Default level increased by relevant traits and concepts

Misalignment of Fastidious House Divinity and Personal Divinity
Would You Like to Correct Alignment
Yes / No

I selected yes.

Would you like to create new sacred space, or rededicate current sacred space
Create / Rededicate

Before I selected create I stopped myself. Normally I would prefer to create new space to allow for those who were honestly worshippers of the goddess, and for all her faults, she had done well in looking after her flock.

That much was clear.

At the Time of Troubles there was only a single overpopulated city. Now there was a large and flourishing civilization. It was too bad that the civilization was rotten and needed rebuilding.

But leaving a way for the goddess to interact with Fastidious House, especially now, seemed like it would be dangerous. From the knowledge I got from my new trait, I was sure I could make a simple shrine for those devout followers to worship at.

Religion, though beneficial in so many ways—and there were many ways I had heard it be useful and beneficial, so much so it was hard to count—was also dangerous. History showed that fact clearly time and time again. What was worse was when politics and religion mixed in a complicated mass of cause and effect. And the Heartlands were unashamedly a theocracy. Those who ruled Houses only did so on behalf of the Temple.

Rededicate it was, then.

Trying out my new trait, I opened the door into the tower.

Instead of just unlocking, the door swung open for me.

On the other side of the door were eight elite house guards, wearing their mail armour and chest plate. Their shields and weapons were within easy reach of each of them. When I left this simple, yet large, chamber held only a couple of lazy guards whose job was to keep track of the crude metal tools of the woodworkers and facilitate the import of fish, birds, eggs, and milk.

They had pushed everything to the sides, except for the benches upon what the soldiers sat.

For a moment, we both stared at each other.

I initiated a communication lockdown. Before following it, with an enforced physical lockdown of the entire Fastidious House and its environments.

‘Hello there, thank you for coming to welcome the new Head of Fastidious House.’

As one, they reached for their shields and weapons.

It would never be easy, would it…

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About the author

volcanicMole

  • England

Bio: From the outside it may seem like vM is plain and boring. From the inside, though, he is anything but: he is an inquisitive explorer who constantly hunts for ways to burst out of the constraining confines of the ordinary world we find ourselves in. To fulfil this longing he creates vast and wondrous worlds full of adventure where the burning brilliance of heroes stands strong and bright against the almost all-consuming darkness of the world.

Those vast worlds of adventure are not his only siren call: he is a loving father and husband (even if he is accused of being a bit too silly at times).

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